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Attacks on Linking Revisited: A New Look at Bion's Classic Work

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This book aims at providing further contributions inspired by Bion's paper Attacks on Linking (1959) by a distinguinshed group of scholars who have focused on different aspects of his propositions.Contributors: Christine Anzieu-Premmereur, Rachel B. Blass, Ronald Britton, Catalina Bronstein, Elias Mallet da Rocha Barros, Elizabeth Lima da Rocha Barros, Antonino Ferro, Jay Greenberg, Monica Horovitz, Clara Nemas, Edna O'Shaughnessy, Rudi Vermote

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Chapter One: Disconnection: A New Look at Narcissism

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Ronald Britton

Bion's development of his concept of “attacks on linking” was part of his exploration of the “psychotic personality” and the part it played in psychotic and non-psychotic neurotic disorders (Bion, 1967a[1957], 1967b[1959]) He considered that a “psychotic personality” co-existed with a “non-psychotic personality” in psychotic disorders and in severe neuroses, with the psychotic personality dominant in the former and masked by a more dominant neurotic pathological organisation in the latter. He also suggested that in the psychotic personality, projective identification substituted for regression in the neurotic personality. The projective identification he refers to in this passage is of an extreme order in which the ego's experience of reality is fragmented and projected, sometimes into inanimate objects. Thus, the elements provided by Freud's reality principle, “that is to say, consciousness of sense impressions, attention, memory, judgment, thought” (Bion, 1967b[1959], p. 47) are lost through projection.

 

Chapter Two: “Attacks on Linking” Revisited: Clinical Material Revisited Twenty Years Later

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Clara Nemas

To revisit a concept means to look at it from the perspective of a double arrow between the present and the past. In a retrospective look, we might find that a certain concept has not only endured the test of time but has become a powerful tool for understanding problems for which it was not designed in the first place. Links and their counterpart as hostility towards linking functions proposed by Bion in 1959 is one of these concepts which have had such a fertile effect in contemporary psychoanalysis.

The idea of the link, the linking function that connects human beings, and its vicissitudes is one of Bion's major contributions to our way of thinking, understanding, and working with our patients and with ourselves. At the same time, it poses problems that are difficult to solve in the analytic setting not very different from the ones created by the introduction of the concept of envy by Melanie Klein, from which it develops and also differs.

Klein and Bion have dwelled on the sources of unbearable pain in the internal world of patients, thus nurturing our understanding of the conflicts that are displayed in the transference.

 

Chapter Three: Bion as a Kleinian: An Elaboration of the Phantasy of the Mind in “Attacks on Linking”

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Rachel B. Blass

Reading Bion today

In recent years, much has been written about Bion's thinking, with authors widely differing on what is the essence of his contribution and what makes it valuable (e.g., Eigen, 1981; Ferro, 2005; Mawson, 2010; O'Shaughnessy, 2005; Sandler, 2010; Symington & Symington, 1996; Taylor, 2011; Vermote, 2011). This diversity might, in part, be a consequence of the complexity of his ideas and his peculiar and, at times, enigmatic way of writing. Undoubtedly, it is also related to the fact that, in his final years, his thinking radically changed. As may be seen from the title of his collected essays, Second Thoughts, and the reflections contained in its last chapter, Bion himself was quite aware of such changes and it was important for him to point them out to his readers. While some authors consider the heart of Bion's contribution to psychoanalysis to lie in his work prior to the change, others think that it is only with it that he dramatically innovates (see Blass, 2011a).

 

Chapter Four: The Sane and the Insane Psychotic: “Attacks on Linking” Revisited from Bion's Later Work

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Rudi Vermote

Introduction

In Second Thoughts (1967a), Bion offered a commentary on his papers on psychosis from the 1950s ten years later. Along the same lines, it might be a valuable exercise to look at “Attacks on linking” from the perspective of his later theoretical work and clinical insights. I begin by summarising the core ideas of “Attacks on linking” (Bion, 1967d), then consider the paper in the light of some of his later concepts. I discuss Bion's technique at the time as reflected in the clinical material of the paper, and go on to discuss the relation between the obstructive object and omnipotent phantasy in psychosis which is prominent in the paper. This will lead us to Bion's view of the relation of the psychotic with the infinite and O, and his interesting idea about the difference between a sane and an insane psychotic. Finally, I discuss the way in which the phenomenon of attacks on linking differs in relation to transformations in O and in K, concluding with a more personal point of view on attacks on linking from perspective of a model of psychic functioning mainly based on Bion's work.

 

Chapter Five: “Attacks on Linking”: The Transformation of Emotional Experiences and its Obstacles

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Elizabeth Lima da Rocha Barros and Elias Mallet da Rocha Barros

What is the connection between being depressed about a haircut that went wrong, angry divergences over inflation rates, the criteria for choosing boyfriends/a future husband, and rivalry? Apparently, there is none, at least not in the conscious sphere of the patient we will discuss below, when she reported clinical material associated with these topics. From her perspective, these accounts are expressions of conscious perceptions and opinions regarding the analyst's behaviour, and her own private and social life. We suggest that, at the level of the unconscious mental dynamics, these views originate from forms of relating with the world that are manifestations expressive of the nature of the existing relationships between internal objects. The initially concrete character of the verbal manifestations and their apparent disconnection during the session commented on later in the chapter result, in our view, from projective identifications and splits that restrict her capacity for symbolic expression. We begin with the patient's dream and then use this material to reflect on the dream's unconscious meanings and their relation to the potential attacks on linking that these reveal.

 

Chapter Six: Attacks on Linking in Parents of Young Disturbed Children

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Christine Anzieu-Premmereur

The work of Bion has enabled analysts to understand the significance of the impact of emotional factors on the process of developing a capacity for thoughts, in early development as in the analytic setting.

Early in life, this function is provided by the mother's capacity for reverie, when she is available to receive the infant's primitive feelings. For Bion, the mother experiences these feelings mostly as the fear of the baby's dying; it is her ability to regain a balanced state of mind that will enable the transformation of the baby's chaotic emotions into organized ones, which can then be named and thought. A mother who is insufficiently open to the baby's communication, or overwhelmed by it, will not be able to tolerate this process. She will create defences against the flow of emotions that will interfere with the dyadic interaction as a primary impairment that could be a source of pathological communication between parent and child. The disorganisation experienced by some fragile mothers post-partum after a difficult conception, pregnancy, or birth, and the vulnerability of some infants, can sometimes fill the emotional encounter between mother and newborn with turbulence.

 

Chapter Seven: An Interrupted Treatment

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Monica Horovitz

“My violent inclination seduced me…and I felt that you were less dear to me than my passion”

(De La Vergne, Letters of the Portuguese Nun, 1669)

A treatment that is suddenly interrupted is a shared traumatic experience, even if it is not immediately recognised or perceived as such. New light is shed retrospectively on the patient and his or her analytic trajectory, revealing resistances or weaknesses that were hitherto unsuspected. Any analyst who has experienced such an impact will be sensitive to the clinical and theoretical interest of an investigation and reflection focused on these stumbling blocks, which, after all, arise quite frequently.

Prelude

In his famous essay of 1959, “Attacks on linking”, Bion suggests that, for patients, the analytic relationship is creative, and the unconscious equivalent of the procreative relationship of the parents. As such, it becomes an object of intense envy, jealousy, and aggressiveness concerning “all links whatsoever from the most primitive…to the most sophisticated forms of verbal communication and the arts” (1967, p. 108). He adds, “The patient's disposition to attack the link between two objects is simplified because the analyst has to establish a link with the patient and does this by verbal communication and his equipment of psycho-analytical experience” (p. 94).

 

Chapter Eight: Escaping to Frankenstein

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Edna O'Shaughnessy

The paper “Attacks on linking” concludes Bion's series in the 1950s on the psychotic personality and its schizoid mechanisms. Based on Freud and Klein, his series, together with the work of Rosenfeld (1965) and Segal (1957) brought to psychoanalysis a new understanding of psychosis. I shall be trying to think again about the analysis of a young patient of mine in the light of Bion's “Attacks on linking” (Bion, 1959), the nature of the transference and the outcome of the analysis, his need to express himself by the use of what I shall call “ready-mades”, and the pivotal moment in the analysis when he turned away from the analyst to Frankenstein.

This is a return to a patient I have written about before, a boy of twelve, Hugh, as I call him, with a psychosis who came mentally broken down and who, after three years of analysis, left able to resume his life and his education, while at the same time keeping an intense relationship with Frankenstein.

 

Chapter Nine: Attacks on Linking, Or Uncontainability of Beta Elements?

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Antonino Ferro

In the brief commentary that prefaces the Italian edition of “Attacks on linking”, Bordi (1970) calls this work one of the greatest contributions to the expansion of Klein's thought, and emphasises how it is thanks to this paper that the concept of envy of the breast finds a place in the dialectic of the instincts.

Furthermore, in Bordi's opinion, Bion's paper gives the same weight to the features acquired during development as it does to those linked to the internal world and the instincts. In addition, it distinguishes those internal objects that belong to the ego from those that are delegated to the superego. I would now like to make a close and systematic examination of the work's theoretical aspects.

95

An interesting early observation concerns the assertion made by Bion at the IPA Congress of 1957 that the analogy between psychoanalytic and archaeological research had meaning only if addressed to the examination “not so much of a primitive civilization, as of a primitive catastrophe”, and, indeed, his claim that the catastrophe we are seeking shifts in the very moment at which we study it is evidence of his divergence from Freud, who thought in terms of a leisurely examination, and also from Winnicott (1974) who, in his famous “Fear of breakdown”, wrote of a breakdown that has already happened.

 

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